Feeling safe verses being safe has a lot of resonance right now for me. My library system is reopening to limited services and doing everything we can to keep people safe from COVID-19, but because of the newness of the disease (in epidemiological terms), all we can do is follow the best advice out there and hope for the best. We think we are doing what is right and best, but that could always change with time and new information (see: the CDC’s disastrous early March advice about face masks). The issues we are facing are complex and multi-faceted, everyone seems to have a different answer, and it’s hard for non-experts to know what to do and who to trust.
I think a very similar thought process can apply to privacy and things that make us feel safe verses actually being safe. Most people want a silver bullet. They want it to be simple. And despite however many times they fail us, many in society want our institutions to give us the answer and have something valuable to offer us. And it is so much more tempting to outsource the work of privacy to someone who says that they can make it all better than to do the hard work of learning all the tools yourself. Even relatively simple stuff can be frustrating. I have an alphanumeric passcode on my phone now instead of Face ID. It radically increases the time it takes me to unlock my phone, plus, I often mistype it. I think the value of the code is high enough to put up with the frustration, but I can see how other people wouldn’t.
Take another common protection tool: VPNs. With so many options out there, so many reviews, so much back and forth, how can the casual consumer know what choice to make, especially when most leading advocates won’t endorse a specific product for a variety of reasons? I can understand how people’s choices would become random or they would get disheartened and make no choices at all.
I think that local action best looks like demystifying the steps people can take for themselves today and in the short run. Giving people some form of personal power that they can take on will help to educate them on issues and practices and will help give them a knowledge base to make them better advocates for issues in the future. Whether it is 1:1 support in the library, classes, or something more, this can support people from a variety of backgrounds.
We can also support local action by keeping your ear to the ground. You can’t advocate for or against something you don’t know exists. During this talk, I googled to see what communities Ring had contracts with police. I was surprised to find my local community was one of the absolute first, and it was absolutely one of the ones most commonly quoted in these articles. Knowledge is the first step, because if you don’t even know you’re fighting a local battle, you’re pretty much destined to lose it.